Strike planning

General Guidance on Contingency Planning for a Strike

The Harvard Graduate Student Union-United Auto Workers (HGSU-UAW) has voted in favor of authorizing their bargaining committee to call for a strike. Their bargaining team has set a deadline to strike by December 3, 2019 if a contract has not been agreed to by that time. 

While the scope of their labor action is entirely unknown, it is important to anticipate the impact that any potential action may have on courses, and how best to ensure the University can fulfill its academic mission and protect the vital teaching and research activities in the face of a work disruption.

Learn more about strike contingency planning.

Frequently asked questions

On strikes, broadly

What is a strike?

A strike is an organized and collective work stoppage by a group of employees, usually with the goal of forcing the employer to accept the employees’ demands. For example, although the NLRA does not require the parties to agree to proposals made during collective bargaining, a union might call a strike to put economic pressure on the employer to accept the union’s proposed terms on wages etc. The striking workers typically organize a picket line in front of the work area where they hold signs, march, and chant to protest the employer’s actions. Workers on strike generally are not paid, because they are not working, although they might be eligible for payments from a union strike fund. Most collective bargaining contracts include a “no strike” clause which prohibits the unit members from engaging in a strike during the life of the contract. Since the University and the UAW do not yet have a collective bargaining agreement in place, the Union may legally call for a strike under the current state of the law.

See also: Strike

What is a partial strike?

A partial strike is a concerted attempt by employees, while remaining at work, to bring economic pressure to force their employer to accede to their demands. Thus, employees might do some of their tasks but not others.

See also: Strike

What are the steps leading up to a strike by HGSU-UAW?

The potential for a strike begins with a Strike Authorization Vote (“SAV”) by HGSU-UAW’s members. According to the UAW Constitution, all HGSU-UAW members must be given due notice that the vote is happening, and to pass, it requires a two-thirds majority of voting members in good standing. If/when HGSU-UAW achieves a SAV, they will need final approval for a strike from the UAW International Executive Board. Once authorized by the International Executive Board, a strike is not automatic, but the HGSU-UAW’s elected bargaining team could call a strike at any time.

See also: Strike

Who runs the strike authorization voting process?

Either the local union or the UAW International Executive Board may issue a call for a strike authorization vote. No one from the University, the NLRB or anyone else monitors the vote outside of the union officers.

See also: Strike

What happens if a staff member who does not belong to HGSU-UAW or is a part of HUTCW chooses not to work in support of the union?

Staff have the right to express their personal views, but staff members do not have the right to disrupt work activities.

Non-unionized staff have a right under the National Labor Relations Act to engage in concerted strike activity, and they are protected by the NLRA from retaliation against them based on that activity. However, no one who participated in a strike would be paid (unless the staff member uses paid time off to participate in the strike). Staff can use approved paid or unpaid time off to engage in those support activities, subject to the policies for use of that time. 

Harvard staff who are union members are covered by no-strike clauses in their collective bargaining agreements, which means that those staff members do not have the right to participate in an HGSU-UAW strike by not working. They are expected to be at work and fulfilling their job responsibilities.

The University-wide Statement on Rights and Responsibilities provides additional guidance.

See also: Strike

I have a question you did not answer. Where can I go for more information?

If your question is not answered in the FAQ section, or in any of the menu items above, please email, and it will be forwarded to the appropriate staff member.

On picketing

What does it mean to “cross a picket line”?

To cross a picket line of striking workers means that a person who is not on strike walks through the line and enters the workplace. That person could be a worker who has chosen not to strike, a manager or a replacement worker hired to fill in during the strike, a customer (or student), etc.

Are students safe to cross a picket line?

If there is a strike, the University and campus police will certainly be monitoring the situation to ensure the safety of University students and employees, including those who cross a picket line. The University has had experience with other strikes on campus and will have appropriate safeguards in place.

Will students suffer any adverse academic consequences if they refuse to cross a picket line?

All students will still be expected to meet the requirements of their academic program. Failing to attend classes, otherwise meet course expectations, or make satisfactory progress toward their other degree requirements could have consequences for their academic standing, especially if the strike is of long duration. But again, that will depend on the academic requirements and standards set forth by the faculty member.

I have a question you did not answer. Where can I go for more information?

If your question is not answered in the FAQ section, or in any of the menu items above, please email, and it will be forwarded to the appropriate staff member.

On legal guidance for managers

*New guidance* Can I ask student workers about their strike plans?

Individuals who hold supervisory roles over student workers, including faculty, should be cautioned not to question student workers about their strike activities, such as asking them whether they are going to strike, who else is going to strike, how many student workers are supporting the strike, what is the level of support for the strike, how long it will last.

Once a strike has commenced, faculty may ask student workers whether they plan to continue to work. In doing so, they should be very careful not to threaten or coerce the student worker to continue to work in any way or to otherwise question the student worker about the strike itself. They may also verify, either by checking themselves or by asking student workers, whether sections/planned reviews are being held or whether lab assignments have been addressed.

See also: Strike - legal

I have a question you did not answer. Where can I go for more information?

If your question is not answered in the FAQ section, or in any of the menu items above, please email, and it will be forwarded to the appropriate staff member.

On strikes and academic matters

How will the Harvard community be notified if classes are not meeting?

It is the University’s expectation that classes should not be disrupted. However, if there are cancellations individual schools will do their best to communicate that information in advance if possible. It is possible the University may not know in advance about a disruption to a class schedule. If that happens, information will be posted instructing students on how to proceed.

Can staff step in to cover a striking union member’s work?

Yes. Protecting the University’s academic mission remains a priority for the University and delivering curriculum to students is an essential part of that mission. There are no restrictions on ensuring that work gets done. Faculty/managers have the right to hire additional staff, shift duties to current staff, or make arrangements for non-striking student workers to perform extra work for extra compensation.

With appropriate local approvals and policy compliance, faculty may hire staff to do the work the strike is leaving undone. Such staff may include:

  • preceptors, lecturers, other non-ladder faculty
  • course assistants and teaching fellows/assistants in the bargaining unit who have chosen not to strike
  • teaching assistants who are not Harvard students
  • qualified staff who are not Harvard affiliates

Any payment for such services should be discussed with the Administrative Deans before any commitment is made. Faculty and other supervisors are, of course, also free to do any needed work themselves.

How will I know if the instructional support staff for my course go on strike?

As noted elsewhere in this guidance, in order to avoid any suggestion of coercion, supervisors should not ask student workers about their strike plans in advance of the start of a strike. However, once a strike has commenced, it will be essential to know whether your instructional staff are teaching or grading student work. Here are several suggested approaches:

  • When a strike has commenced, you could send an email to all instructional staff in your course, asking them to let you know if they will be covering their sections and grading during the strike
  • If you have just one TF, TA, or CA, you can ask them directly if they will be working during the strike
  • Have someone check the rooms where the class is held
  • Ask the students enrolled in the course if their class was held

If this strike is for an extended duration, may I make adjustments to assignments, course meetings, or course requirements?

Faculty are responsible for teaching course material, and students are responsible for learning it. However, the forms of teaching and learning may need to change if there's a strike, particularly if it goes on for some time. We rely on faculty discretion in making necessary adjustments, always with the best interest of students in mind. Such adjustments could include: reducing the number of independent assessments being carried out, having students work in pairs on assignments, automating some forms of assessment, e.g. multiple choice, utilizing contingency planning technology to enable students to attend their courses without stress.

After the strike is over, may I ask student workers who participated to make up work that has been missed?

As long as the student worker is still holding an active position, you can ask them to make up missed work. They will need to work with their local Registrar’s Office to confirm locations for makeup sections, or they can take advantage of the remote teaching technologies to organize make up sections. Enrolled students should be encouraged to attend if at all possible.

Who can step in as a replacement Teaching Fellow, Teaching Assistant, or Course Assistant?

Any non-Harvard student and any other qualified individual may be considered for replacement teaching staff work. You can ask current non-Harvard affiliated instructional support staff in your department, as well as non-ladder faculty, if they would like to take on additional work at the rate currently assigned to the course. If you know that a TF, TA, or CA is continuing to work during the strike, then you may also offer that individual additional work to make up for the missing staff. You could also send a group email to all instructional staff in a course, offering them additional work during the duration of a strike.

I have a question you did not answer. Where can I go for more information?

If your question is not answered in the FAQ section, or in any of the menu items above, please email, and it will be forwarded to the appropriate staff member.

On consequences for striking students

What discipline could striking students face?

Members of the bargaining unit are exercising a protected right under the National Labor Relations Act and would not be disciplined for being on strike. However, HGSU-UAW members who don’t report to work during a strike or disruption may risk not being paid.In addition, the student workers would be expected to continue to meet their academic obligations in order to remain students in good standing. While they are allowed to strike, they still must attend any required classes as students and otherwise meet the academic requirements for their degree, including progress in their academic research.

I have a question you did not answer. Where can I go for more information?

If your question is not answered in the FAQ section, or in any of the menu items above, please email, and it will be forwarded to the appropriate staff member.